An offseason filled with debates and controversies over transfer restrictions in both college football and basketball has found its way to the West Coast, where former Hawaii safety Michael Wadsworth has been denied his release to the only school he would like to play for: BYU. Is he the newest Danny O'Brien or Jarrod Uthoff, or is Hawaii justified in their decision?
The answer might lie in the eye of the beholder. Wadsworth's story was detailed this week by the Salt Lake Tribune, which spoke to Wadsworth's father and found that the Utah native is free to transfer to any school he chooses except BYU. Unfortunately, Wadsworth -- a practicing Mormon who made the decision to transfer closer to home during his current two-year LDS mission to Leeds, England -- is committed to playing for BYU, if the Cougars will have him.
Wadsworth's father, John, said that he and the family have not been in contact with BYU and do not know if the school would allow Michael to walk on to the football team, much less offer a scholarship if the release was granted. Regardless, the family is prepared to pay Michael's way to BYU in the fall.
According to John Wadsworth, the decision to deny Michael's release to BYU was originally made by former Warriors head coach Greg McMackin, then emphatically upheld by new Hawaii head coach Norm Chow (pictured). An appeal was denied as well.
"Hawaii feels strongly about not releasing him to BYU," John Wadsworth said. "He can talk to any other school out there, even other schools on Hawaii's schedule. But he can't talk to BYU ... The way coach Chow explained it, he believes BYU has an unfair recruiting advantage for missionaries. I don't know his motives."
Because of an NCAA rule prohibiting schools from contacting other programs' athletes during religious missions without the current program's consent -- a rule known as the "Riley Nelson Rule," after the quarterback who transferred from Utah State to BYU, and the rule reportedly cited by Chow in his explanation to the Wadsworths -- the refusal to grant Michael's release means that his family cannot discuss his situation with the Cougars.
"I'm still trying to understand the NCAA rule. It's confusing to me," John told the Deseret News. Spokesman for both Hawaii and BYU said that their respective programs had no comment, aside from the Cougars specifying that Bronco Mendenhall does not contact athletes from other schools away on missions.
Despite Chow's alleged references to Nelson and BYU's relationship with missionaries, it's not hard to come up with other explanations for Hawaii's decision. The Warriors and Cougars are scheduled to play each other in both 2012 and 2013, and could reportedly agree to extend the former annual series for several more years after that. Also, in part because of the large numbers of LDS Church members on the islands, it's not uncommon for Hawaii to have to battle BYU in its in-state recruiting efforts.
So maybe Wadsworth's case isn't exactly like, say, Uthoff's. At the same time, the presence of BYU on Hawaii's future schedules does nothing about the fundamental hypocrisy of the NCAA rule permitting such restrictions; if Chow wanted to go (back) to BYU for professional reasons, he could at any time with no strings attached, but Wadsworth's personal and religious reasons aren't good enough for the same privilege.
Is that reason enough to say the Warriors aren't justified in denying Wadsworth his release? Maybe, maybe not. What's certain is that it's one more case which illustrates that the NCAA needs to do something to help clean up a muddy gray area into something more black-and-white ... and preferably one where coaches and players are on a more level playing field when it comes to switching schools.
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